U.S. President-elect Joe Biden introduced Connecticut education commissioner Miguel Cardona as his education secretary nominee on Wednesday, touting him as a strong advocate of public schools who can lead the agency through struggles to educate students safely during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“We can do it if we give school districts, communities and states the clear guidance and resources that aren't already in their tight budgets," Biden said Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden said educating students safely “requires someone who understands the need to prevent the pandemic from further exacerbating the inequities in our education system.”
The 45-year-old Cardona, who would be the first Latino to serve as education secretary if confirmed by the Senate, was appointed as Connecticut’s education chief just months before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March.
Cardona embraced remote learning by quickly delivering more than 100,000 laptops to students across the state, but has since increasingly pushed for schools to reopen, saying continued remote learning was harmful to students.
Biden’s choice of Cardona delivers on his commitment to nominate someone with public education experience who contrasts sharply with current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Unlike DeVos, a school choice proponent whom Biden maintains is an opponent of public schools, Cardona is a product of them, beginning in kindergarten when he was unable to speak English.
The grandson of immigrants, Cardona was raised in a housing project in Meriden, Connecticut, and was educated in the city’s public schools before returning to work as an elementary school teacher in the district in 1998. He eventually worked his way up to assistant superintendent of the district.
Speaking to reporters, sometimes in Spanish, Cardona said his bicultural upbringing gives him keen insight into how to resolve the nation’s education inequalities.
“I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans,” Cardona said.
“I know how challenging this year has been for students, for educators and for parents. I’ve lived those challenges alongside millions of American families,” Cardona added. “It's taken some of our most painful longstanding disparities and wrenched them open even wider.”
Cardona said his first priority will be to expand in-person learning nationwide. Biden has vowed to have most U.S. schools reopened within his first 100 days in office.
Biden said his administration will develop new federal guidelines on school opening decisions and launch a “large-scale” effort to identify and share the best methods to teach students during a pandemic.